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Abstract Art and ADHD

Updated: Jan 9


Colourful abstract painting

Creating and being involved in art activities are great inspiring outlet for both adults and children with ADHD.


People with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) are clinically thought of as hyperactive, impulsive, lack of focus, make careless mistakes, talk too much, poor time management, exaggerated emotions and have social difficulties. However, they are also perceived as being very spontaneous, inquisitive, lively, enthusiastic and witty – a perception that creates an impression they are more creative than those without ADHD.


Research into the relationship between creativity, art and ADHD to date has painted an inconsistent picture, partly due to the fact that it is more difficult to understand creativity using psychological tests than it is to comprehend, say, intelligence. So far, though, studies that are of higher quality and involve sufficient test subjects do not provide clear evidence that people with ADHD are actually the better lateral thinkers.


Many have speculated that Pablo Picasso, Leonardo da Vinci and Vincent van Gogh had ADHD. They all exhibited many of the classic ADHD characteristics. These famous artists were creative geniuses and incredibly passionate about creating art. They had tremendous ability to focus on their work, changing the way the world sees art.


There are many studies being explored that are trying to see if there is a relationship between creativity and people with ADHD. This article includes various information about art and ADHD, but may not be totally accurate as more research is required.


What is ADHD


ADHD is one of the most common mental health conditions which affect children and it may also affect adults. It is a developmental impairment of the brain’s executive functions (the way the brain grows and develops). People with ADHD have trouble with impulse-control, focusing and organisation. Most cases are diagnosed when children are 6 to 12 years old, but symptoms may often persist into adulthood. Symptoms of ADHD include hyperactivity and inattention, such as:

  • being unable to sit still, especially in calm or quiet surroundings

  • constantly fidgeting

  • being unable to concentrate on tasks

  • excessive physical movement

  • excessive talking

  • being unable to wait their turn

  • acting without thinking

  • interrupting conversations

  • little or no sense of danger

  • having a short attention span and being easily distracted

  • making careless mistakes

  • appearing forgetful or losing things

  • being unable to stick to tasks that are tedious or time-consuming

  • appearing to be unable to listen to or carry out instructions

  • constantly changing activity or task

  • having difficulty organising tasks

People with ADHD may also experience problems with anxiety, depression and sleep disorders. It could contribute to:


· Problems with social relationship

· Problems at work – lost productivity

· Problems doing well in school


Although there is no cure for ADHD, it can be managed with appropriate educational support, advice and support for adults, parents and affected children, alongside medicine, if necessary.


Art and ADHD


There are many artists, actors and musicians with ADHD, but having talent and having artistic success are two different things. There is no definite research to suggest that having ADHD makes you an especially talented artist. But some think there are aspects of ADHD that might play a role in thriving creativity.


Abstract painting and art therapy

It is known that people with ADHD are often risk-takers. Pursuing a creative career requires putting yourself out there and facing possible rejection or career failure. In other words, you have to take risks. Also, people with ADHD often intensely focus on things they have a great interest in. That can be a plus when creative people are working to develop their craft.


For some people, the symptoms of ADHD might play a role in fostering creativity. But those same challenges can keep them from translating their ideas into reality. People with ADHD often struggle with planning, managing time and following through on tasks.


It is also important for people with ADHD to work on the skills that could keep their creative dreams from becoming a reality. That includes skills like organisation and time management. Improving those skills can help clear the way for creativity to flourish.


Being involved in art activities and making art are therapeutic and can definitely help to:


· build self-esteem

· improve focus

· foster relaxation

· reduces stress

· increase Serotonin levels ( a key hormone that stabilises our mood, feelings of wellbeing and happiness).


Abstract acrylic painting

What is Art Therapy


Art therapy uses the processes of drawing, painting, and sculpting to improve wellbeing and confidence. It is based on the premise that self-expression can be used to address emotional problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behaviour, reduce stress, decision making, increase self-awareness, social skills. One does not have to be a da Vinci to benefit from art therapy.


Art therapy can be beneficial for people with ADHD because it can help to cope with impulsivity, flexibility, decision making, sequencing and social skills.


Children with ADHD and learning differences often have intense emotions, poor social skills and low self-esteem. Children naturally communicate through art and play, and art therapy gives them a useful, nonverbal approach to face these challenges.


Art therapy can bring a range of physical and emotional benefits to people with ADHD, helping them learn to cope with some core issues associated with the condition. These include learning to become less impulsive, improving decision making skills, learning to be more flexible as well as improving social skills and self-esteem. Art therapy also creates the opportunity for people to work on practicing self-control. This is particularly important as it is so common for people with ADHD to feel as if they are out of control so much of the time.


It is a well-known fact that creating art is stimulating for the brain which is important for people with ADHD. It is suggested that people with ADHD are stimulation seeker because stimulation increases the uptake of the dopamine and helps them to stay focused.


Abstract art

Art is a language of expression and for someone with ADHD, a picture may be worth more than a thousand words. Art therapy uses artistic methods with the idea that creative expression may help to improve mental wellbeing (How Can Art Therapy Help Mental Health).


Sometimes, putting things into words can be a frustrating and difficult task for people with ADHD. Art therapy can open the doors to communication by creating the opportunity for people to express their thoughts, feelings and emotions in a different way. This is a great outlet for the ADHD mind which can be racing with thoughts. It can help greatly calm the mind as well as soothe anxiety. Over time, it could also help people learn how to organise their thoughts better.


Activities like painting activate the midbrain and the limbic system, where emotional regulation takes place. Paint is a fluid material, which can be more difficult to control – like emotions – and can be satisfying to manipulate with a paintbrush or the hands. Painting builds the ability to control gross motor skills and feelings.


Making art creates natural moments to express thoughts and feelings in an environment that is often less threatening than talk therapy. Some emotions are difficult to discuss, but can be expressed effectively in a drawing or painting.


Making art gives children the opportunity to explain what they made to a parent, teacher or classmate. It creates natural moments for positive social interactions, like sharing materials, sharing space, making compliments or even making suggestions. It can be easier for children to talk about artwork than themselves.


A round robin exercise is used often during art therapy with groups of children, where each child adds something new to a painting or drawing when it is passed to them. This is particularly effective at helping improve social skills as it teaches children how to relate to others and build empathy. Creating art in a group is beneficial for these reasons, as through the process of looking at each other’s artwork, discussing it or creating together, a child is picking up important social skills.


Art and art therapy

How Does Art Therapy Work


Art therapy works in a number of different ways to lessen the impact of many of the negative consequences of ADHD. For instance, art therapy, which utilises a number of different approaches for nonverbal creative expression, can help children with ADHD channel their intense emotions without engaging in verbal outbursts. This nonverbal form of expression provides an outlet for the child, which can quell behavioural difficulties. As the behaviour of the child improves, the child may experience more positive feedback from educators, counsellors and parents. Over time, this may have a significant effect on the child’s self-esteem. As the child gains confidence, his/her behaviour will improve dramatically, further reinforcing positive outcomes in all areas of development.


Art therapy has also been shown to increase attention span for children with ADHD by providing a source of focus. Art is a natural part of play in children’s development and often children with ADHD are able to select art projects that interest them. With an art project of their choice, children with ADHD are given an outlet upon which to focus. Although the duration of attention to the project may increase over several sessions, the process is one that builds the capability of the child with ADHD to channel energy in a positive way that results in accomplishment.


This also has an impact on the child’s self-esteem. Often children with ADHD are punished for their inability to pay attention or focus. By teaching this basic skill to children, art therapy can provide an important bridge for utilising focus and attention skills in the classroom and at home.


Art therapy can also provide a foundation for adults and children to explore their identity. This can be a powerful process, as people with ADHD are often defined by labels and behaviours. For people with ADHD, labelling and attention to negative behaviours can make it difficult for the individual to define himself or herself in a positive context. Art can connect the person to an inner identity that is positive and therapeutic. By providing this connection, the person can overcome much of the negativity that encompasses much of the person’s daily experience. In short, art can make a person feel good about himself or herself. Although it may take several sessions for people to experience this outcome, providing the foundation for this type of growth will be imperative for helping the person to achieve a better sense of self.


ADHD and Creativity


ADHD may create difficulties for individuals in many contexts that required focused, sustained attention—such as school, where children are expected to sit still and pay attention. On the other hand, the same distractibility and chaotic mind can give people with ADHD an edge when it comes to creative, original thinking. A new study suggests that ADHD may be especially beneficial when the goal is to create or invent something new without being locked into—and constrained by—old models or conventions. The innovative, original thinking style of people with ADHD may be a great fit for innovative fields where it is an advantage to be on the cutting edge.


It is often said that people who are easily distracted, hyperactive and impulsive, such as those with ADHD, may be more creative than people who do not experience such symptoms.


People with ADHD actually have very good - to almost extreme attention spans - but only for subjects they find interesting. This is an important distinction to consider, as people with ADHD also tend to resist conformity and ignore common information.


The Healing Power of Art


Anyone who is a passionate artist knows that painting and drawing can totally consume your mind, taking you to another place and time. While creating artistic works is a relaxing hobby for some, for others it is a way to put the stresses and problems in a too-busy world behind. Still others find that putting their talents to work or even learning a new skill such as painting can alleviate stress or physical/emotional pain, while it is also thought by many to be a great alternative treatment for ADHD and other disorders.


When you are stressed or anxious, art can provide a distraction, taking your mind at least temporarily off of the things that are making you feel stressed. This means a clearer mind later, so that you are ready to face the things that are making you stressed. For many artists, complete submersion in their work offers the benefits of meditation.


Who would have ever thought that something so fun, engaging – and sometimes challenging – could be so healing in so many ways?


Kids are great at expressing their feelings through art, but adults seem to lose that avenue of expression as adults. Here are a few ways that painting, sketching and other forms of art can benefit both body and mind:


Calm the Brain

Children and adults with ADHD or autism have said that art therapy helps to ‘calm the brain.’ This is amazing considering that many with these conditions are easily distracted, impulsive, and often have problems with anxiety. Because children with various learning disabilities often suffer from low self-esteem as well, art in its various forms can develop confidence, improve behaviour and help with emotional problems. Completing a painting or drawing does a lot of things at once, including decreasing impulsive behaviour, increasing levels of serotonin in the brain and promoting focus.


Art is a Healthy Outlet

For physical or emotional pain or even tragedy, art works miracles. Painting or drawing is considered a sort of refuge and salvation for some, who find that expressing their sadness, grief or other emotional feelings through art can offer great relief. Creating a work of art can even produce an emotional high without resorting to medications or dangerous drugs. Art is a great outlet for releasing pain and feelings of depression, helping the artist feel good about him or herself. The word ‘tranquil’ is perfect for describing how many artists feel when plunging themselves into their work. Sometimes, taking your mind to a different place takes it off of physical pain or emotional suffering.


The De-stressing Power of Art

Creating art can provide a distraction from stressful thoughts and experiences, regardless of artistic experience or talent. This is something that I go through every time I am engaged in creating abstract paintings. Whether art is a passion or simply a hobby, it can offer you a feeling of a more balanced life. Art is a form of self-care, so take care of yourself – and hopefully enjoy something beautiful that you have the satisfaction of knowing you created yourself when it is all done.


Acrylic abstract painting

Abstract Painting


There is no doubt that art is a powerful tool which can evoke and influence our moods. Although much research has been carried out, more information is still needed. But there are several studies that associate art with mental wellbeing and healing and confirm that visual art improves psychological as well as physical wellbeing in many ways, (Is Abstract Painting Really Good for Mental Healthcare).


Art can certainly take us on a journey to unknown places that most of us may not be able to realise where and what these places are. I believe abstract non-representational art does that extremely well.


It is the unfamiliar information that the brain receives but continuously attempting very hard to translate such information to the familiar. The brain seeks to interpret the subject to a familiar representational form; shapes that are more familiar. Some of the people who saw my artwork (abstract painting) said; ‘I can see a face there’ or ‘I see a figure of a person’.


The more you look at an abstract painting, the more you begin to realise that it has an effect on your brain, more of an emotion or a feeling. But sometimes it can be hard to realise what exact emotion or feeling it is given you. Happy, sad, angry or maybe nothing. Is ‘nothing’ a type of emotion?


Whatever feeling it gives, the questions in my mind are: a) Does abstract art actually free our minds from the dominance of reality and allow it to touch other areas in our minds, giving different emotions? b) If it does, would it actually help people with emotional difficulty or even learning difficulties as the process of looking at abstract art may enable the exploration of undiscovered territories of the viewers mind!


I’m sure art in general has certain effects on our brains in one way or another and my interest is how does it affect people, particularly children with learning difficulties, ADHD, autism etc. Can art, particularly abstract art help them to improve? I know there are many researches that have been carried out about this subject and many institutions around the world are using art therapy as a media of expression and communication.


My knowledge of ADHD and other mental conditions is limited, but I believe art, particularly abstract art/painting can help people, even for a short time while engaged in the making of art. Abstract art is all about expressing emotions and feelings without rules, restrictions and limitations. It is the experience of the process itself in making abstract arts/paintings irrespective of the end result of the art work.


It is all about the ultimate freedom of expression – just let go.


A great song: David Bowie - Where Are We Now? (video)

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